On the training table
You’re a receiver running a post pattern. As you cut towards the middle – boom! Your knee makes an unforgettable crunching sound as it pops and turns to Jell-O. It’s a torn ACL, and you’re done for the season.
Injuries are synonymous with professional sports, especially football. Players who are deemed unfit to play can be placed on the injured list for 30 days up to nine games. The Canadian Football League doesn’t track injury time-lost, so it’s difficult to pinpoint the direct impact injuries have on a team, other than from an individual player’s missed contribution.
Professional athletes are lucky to have access to immediate medical attention and therapy. A competent and understanding trainer makes the recovery process less stressful. “We’ve got the best training staff in the whole country,” admits Calgary Stampeder defensive lineman Sheldon Napastuk, who suffered a rotator cuff sprain in 2005. “(Pat Clayton) knows exactly how long an injury should take to get back. An injury is always stressful because a lot of questions pop up. How serious is this going to be?”
While you know you’re getting the best care, being injured also creates angst about job security.
Stampeder receiver Mike Juhasz missed the bulk of 2005’s training camp due to a hamstring nerve. Although he is a seasoned CFL veteran, being injured still makes for an anxious situation.
“If I was a rookie, I would have probably been sent packing. Everything felt fine, but then when I tried to run, (the hamstring) just grabbed on me and stopped me from going. You feel like the guys are watching you. They’re seeing me jog and walk fine – no limp or anything like that.”
Juhasz admits he was one of those guys. “It’s tough watching guys thinking, why is this guy sitting out? They’re probably thinking I’m weak. It’s something you have to deal with, battle through, and hopefully come back stronger and prove to everyone that it was a legitimate injury.”
When you’re injured, you’re on the outside looking in. You don’t really feel like part of the team. You’ll look in the paper and see a player listed with a certain injury, but it really doesn’t describe the severity of that injury or what it does to a player’s psyche. It can be anything from a tweak to a tear.
When a player is out for any length of time, only the trainer really knows the situation. Juhasz adds, “People start questioning your toughness. That’s the hard part to deal with. Every injury is different. Every body heals differently. You never know when you’re body is one day going to click and say, you’re better and ready to go.”
As a player, you want to rehab fully, so when you come back you’re completely healthy. But it’s also psychological. You need to cut, but you don’t know how hard you can go. That’s where the player feels pressure – to come back early. If he comes back too soon, he can get injured again, this time, more severely. You’ll see players become part of a vicious cycle, where they are deemed injured all the time. Ultimately, a player knows that recurring injuries can affect his career.
Defensive back Lawrence Deck, who suffered a bruised bone in his knee, explains, “It’s the hardest thing: standing on the sidelines. You want to play all the time.
“There’s a saying that you don’t make the team in the tub. If you’re hurt, you’re probably not going to make the team. You can’t show what you can do. As a veteran player, they’ve seen what you can do, although there are a lot of young guys out there taking your reps who want your job.”
A recovering Deck, who entered his fifth CFL season in 2005, fourth with the Stampeders, was relegated to the practice roster after being released from the main squad on June 13 – roughly three weeks into the camp.